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Ian's Record Rainfall Causing Polluted Runoff and Sewage to Spill into the Indian River Lagoon

Gil Smart, VoteWater: Hundreds of overflows have been reported into waterways and canals that empty into the Lagoon, including spills into the Lagoon here along the Treasure Coast.

Treasure Coast - Monday October 3, 2022: The human toll rightfully remains the priority in the ongoing Hurricane Ian relief efforts, but concerns are also being raised now about the impact this storm will have on the Indian River Lagoon.

The runoff from the storm's record rainfall is flowing into waterways carrying pollutants into the lagoon as overwhelming sewer treatment plants which have had to spill some of their overflow into the Lagoon as well.

In the wake of Hurricane Ian, Gil Smart, the Executive Director of VoteWater, points to the Cocoa treatment plant in Brevard County which last week had to spill 7.2 million gallons of highly treated sewage into the Lagoon. Hundreds of other overflows have been reported across our region says Smart, including spills into the Lagoon here along the Treasure Coast.

“In the Port St. Lucie area, a number of sanitary sewer overflows have been reported. One here in the Vero Beach area, one here (in) northern St. Lucie County, (and) the northern part of the lagoon," said Smart. "But we’re also going to see water flowing into the canals that wind up in the lagoon.”

The Public Affairs Manager for Fort Pierce Utilities, Rachel Tennant, responded in an email saying "there were no overflows from the FPUA wastewater plant into the Indian River Lagoon due to Hurricane Ian."

Smart says that all the runoff is degrading the water quality and that’s bad news for the Lagoon and the plant and animal life that live in it. You’re talking an unknown amount of nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorous, in the water. Those are the nutrients which cause the alga blooms which shade out the sunlight from the seagrass, which kills the seagrass which kills the manatees," said Smart.

It will take some time to see the full impact of Ian on the Lagoon, he said, but the storm once again underscores the need for improved wastewater infrastructure in all the communities that border the Lagoon.

"As time goes on," said Smart, "I think the magnitude of what this is going to mean for our waterways is just going to become overwhelming. And what we have to see now is a re-doubled dedication by local governments, state government, and particularly the federal government to do what we can to update this aging infrastructure. Because if this keeps happening our water problems are only going to get worse.”